Twelfth Night: Homosexuality between Orsino and Cesario

The debate about homosexuality is one that the world will not tire from bring up. In particular, the question of whether people are born as homosexuals is one that is common in today’s world. Researchers have gone out of their way in exposing the deep rootedness of the practice, commonly seen as a vice among religious doctrines. In Shakespeare’s play ‘The Twelfth Night’ the concept of homosexuality as is love in general is widely covered and the aspects of the same detailed (Draper, n.d.). It occurs therefore that homosexuality is a practice that has been practiced for a long enough time and should not shock anyone. The assertion by religious leaders that homosexuality is inhumane is hypocritical at its least.  The play clearly points out that homosexuality is not a personal choice but a habit acquired at birth. Accordingly, homosexuals should not be bashed because of a habit they were born with.

Twelfth Night is a play about a duke Orsino who falls in love with Olivia in the kingdom of Illyria. However, he cannot have the lady owing to the fact she is mourning the death of her brother. Viola pretends to be a man, Cesario, and heads to work in duke Orsino’s house. While working as Orsino’s page, Viola falls in love with him but she cannot pursue the love because the duke thinks that she is a man. When Orsino sends Viola to take love messages to Olivia, the latter falls for Viola, who she thinks is a man. Olivia ends up marrying Sebastian, Olivia’s brother who looks just like her. Later in the play, Orsino finds out that Viola is a woman and marries her and everyone ends up happy (Smith, 2011).

The issue of homosexuality is evident in the two characters Orsino and Viola who disguises herself as Cesario to attain a manly character. From the onset, the two are in love with each owing to the fact that Viola rejects any chance of a homoerotic relationship with Olivia. She is quoted as saying that her ‘state is only desperate for her master’s love’ (Smith, 2011). As soon as Viola starts working for Orsino, the latter develops a connection with Viola even though he thinks her to be a man. By allowing the feelings for Viola, then disguised as Cesario, to grow, Orsino confirms that his feelings are for a man. In fact, one of the workers tells Viola that even though Orsino had known her for less than three days, she was not a stranger to him. This is to imply that the feelings developing in Orsino were so strong and visible for all to notice. Although Viola knows she is a woman in pursuing the love, the feelings that Orsino develops are for the man Cesario.

The homosexuality between Orsino and Viola, then disguised as Cesario, continues to grow leading to Orsino opening up about it. Orsino woos Cesario by confiding to ‘him’ that he had unclasped the book of his secret soul to ‘him’. This development is in spite of the fact that he had only known her for a few days. In this assertion, the play confirms that Orsino is already attracted to the girl Viola who he thinks is a man named Cesario. To confirm how close he had grown to Cesario, he confers upon him the important job of wooing Olivia on his behalf. The fact that he trusts Cesario so much as to entrust him with Olivia is enough proof that he was falling for him. The play record Orsino examining Cesario and saying to himself that even though Cesario is a man, he has more rubious and smooth lips than Diana. The duke goes ahead to comment that Cesario’s body features is semblative of a woman’s part (Draper, n.d.). In this confession, Orsino confirms how he views Cesario and his attraction to him.

Towards the end of the play, while Olivia is still disguised as Cesario, there is a deep conversation between the two about love. The conversation is too intimate to be discussed by two men but they defy the odd and go on with it. The fact that Orsino does not know that Cesario is a woman points out to the homoerotic feelings that he has developed for Cesario. In the conversation, Orsino confesses that he loves Cesario stating, “after him I love, more tan I love these eyes, more than my life’. These statements portray a man who is in love with another man as he declares that ‘if I do feign, you witness above’ (White et al., 2015). Perhaps this confession is to prepare Cesario to the idea that Orsino loves him and wants to have him for a wife.

Towards the end of the play, it is confirmed that Orsino is more interested in loving the boy in Cesario than the woman in Viola. This development is even after Viola’s real appearance is displayed and it makes it clear that Orsino had an erotic interest in his boy servant Cesario. It is therefore true to assume that Orsino did not fall in love with Viola but Cesario. Moreover, it appears that Orsino fell in love with Viola not because she was a woman but for her way with words. Even though Cesario’s real name is revealed to be Viola, Orsino still continues to call her Cesario thus proving that he is more comfortable with Cesario than with Viola. Orsino then goes ahead to call out Cesario saying that that is who he shall remain to be.

White et al., (2015) argue that Orsino fell for Viola therefore there was no homosexuality in the play. The basis of this argument is in the fact that he still marries Viola. The author goes on to suggest that if Orsino was homosexual, then he would not have married Viola. However, the play confirms the fact that homosexuality is not a habit that one forms over time but is one that homosexuals are born with. The fact that Orsino fell in love with Viola even without knowledge that she was a woman justifies this statement. In fact, Orsino had no control of whether he was falling for a man. In fact, he was falling for a woman but he had no knowledge of that. However, he did not stop his feelings because Viola was disguised as a man but went on to pursue the feelings and even express them.



Draper, R. (n.d.). Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

Smith, N. (2011). Appearances Versus Reality in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Article Myriad.

White, R. S., Houlahan, M., & O’Loughlin, K. (2015). Shakespeare and emotions: Inheritances, enactments, legacies.

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